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by Jim Swift, CA

When the great photographer Jay Maisel said "Color is the enemy of shape", he was drawing attention to the fact that in black and white photography, shape, contrast, texture and tone are the dominating elements. The brain interprets such images in a quite different way from the way it interprets colour.

Consider these two photographs of a Trillium flower. As you look at each image, observe the things you notice in each image, where your eye goes and the overall impressions that you have of the image. Recall your impressions of these two images. In which image did the juxtaposition of the triangles of the flower and leaves come across most strongly?

Asking the question "how will this look in black and white" forces you to look at the world through very different eyes, to be "awake to the options" more fully and to become even more aware of the variety of connections between the world and ourselves.


But the different approach in black and white photography does not end with the capture of the image. Just as the masters of black and white spent hours in the darkroom producing the exact tonalities they envisioned, we too spend time in the digital darkroom, selecting just those shades of grey that we want. The tools at our disposal are very much more powerful and flexible than the glass filters and dodging and burning tools of the darkroom. We can now use any colour and strength of filter we like and use different strength/colour combinations on different parts of the image.

To go into detail about the methods used to make black and white images is beyond the scope of a single article, but I have written an introduction to get you started. It's available as a download from the Alberni Valley Photography Club. If you would like to explore further, I would strongly recommend Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Digital Black & White Photography (Lark Press, 2009).


Our December issue will be black and white! If you'd like your own black and white haiga to be as beautiful as Jim's, download Jim's article; read Ray's thoughts in our Haiga Workshop on placing text in monochrome haiga, and enjoy the exquisite black and white haiga by our featured artists an'ya and Ron Moss. Then, send us your own haiga for the challenge.

Details for submitting may be found here.